Early childhood services are worried that they cannot afford to keep up if kindergarten teachers win the same big pay rises as school teachers recently got.
They say their teachers are often paid $20,000 to $30,000 less than kindergarten teachers with the same qualifications and experience, and the government needs to increase their subsidies so they can pay their teachers more.
Kindergarten teachers won pay parity with schoolteachers in 2004 and negotiated their collective agreement with the Education Ministry, which funds most of the resulting pay rises through its subsidies to kindergarten associations.
Other early childhood services do not have that arrangement.
Their union, the Educational Institute, said that maintaining pay parity with schoolteachers would give kindergarten teachers a 5% pay rise followed by two further increases of 3% each and a top pay rate of $90,000 by 2021.
Taranaki’s Ruru House owner Anna Ryder said those increases would create a huge disparity.
“If the pay parity comes in, then that is great, I am totally all for that coming in, teachers deserve it, but there is quite a big gap then,” she said.
Ms Ryder said her Education Ministry funding was based on assurances that she would pay her qualified teachers at least $46,000.
“If we need to attest to pay $46,000 and the top rate is around $90,000, then that’s a huge difference,” she said.
Early Childhood Council Chief Executive Peter Reynolds said early childhood centre owners were anxious about the kindergarten pay talks.
“If kindergarten teacher pay rates go up significantly, we have got a major problem,” he said.
Mr Reynolds said the government increased early childhood subsidies by 1.8% in the Budget, but that was well short of the pay rises that kindergarten teachers might win.
“People are just ripping their hair out, saying ‘what will we do and how are we going to survive’.
“An increasing number of centres, instead of sitting at around about 80% of their teaching staff are qualified teachers, they are dropping down to the next level down which is around 50%. They are doing that because that’s all they can afford to keep their doors open.”
Mr Reynolds said teachers expected to be paid the same for the same job and the government should pass on kindergarten teachers’ pay rises to all teachers in the early childhood sector.
It was not yet clear if the Education Ministry would seek to remove kindergarten teachers’ pay parity, but one of the Educational Institute’s negotiators Virginia Oakly said it had suggested ending the arrangement in previous negotiations.
A sticking point
“In the last round of negotiations we were told we could have pay parity or we could have some of the other issues that we raised,” she said.
“It became a real sticking point.”
Ms Oakly would not comment on the current negotiations, which began this week, but said maintaining parity was incredibly important.
“Regardless of which sector you are working in, a teacher’s doing the same job, they’re teaching they’re assessing, they’re working with children and we should be valued for that,” she said.
“Our job has become more complex over the years.”
At Newtown Kindergarten in Wellington, teacher Ann-Marie Day said she and her colleagues were determined to keep their parity with schoolteachers.
“For us, it is very important because it is about having that recognition and not just for the teachers, it’s recognition of the children and their right to have education,” she said.
Fellow teacher Catherine Vaughan said that kindergarten teachers deserved the top pay rate of $90,000 that schoolteachers recently won in their collective agreement negotiations.
“Our job has become more complex over the years and there’s a bigger role with pastoral care, bigger workload. There is always something happening, there is always work to do, it is ongoing, it is complex, there are lots of paperwork, lots of time with the children.”
John Gerritsen is Education Correspondent at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and Picture have been published under a Special Arrangement with www.rnz.co.nz
Kindergarten teachers Ann-Marie Day and Catherine Vaughan at Newtown Kindergarten in Wellington (Photo RNZ Picture by John Gerritsen)